Gang leader Sam Kian Seng was doing his boss’s bidding. Where others failed, Sam, who was the tai kor (leader) of a gang with 70 gang members under him, wanted to prove his might.
For his folly, the tables were turned on him.
Although he succeeded in carrying out his boss’s command, he was arrested in 1988.
Sam had tried to talk to the businessman to settle his debt of RM150,000 but the latter was adamant and unwilling to pay up. When Sam’s patience wore thin, he whipped out his gun and fired two warning shots to show that he meant business. He then ordered the businessman to empty his safe of gold and cash.
The man later lodged a police report. Sam and his accomplice were arrested the very next day.
In 1990, Sam was convicted of armed robbery and possession of a firearm, and sentenced to life imprisonment – without a date of release – and given six strokes of the rotan. In other words, he was condemned to spend the rest of his life in prison.
“My mind went blank. I was very shocked,” said Sam, 61, recalling the day of his sentencing.
His only hope was a royal pardon.
His book Kajang Redemption – The True Story Of Sam Kian Seng was recently published. In his story, as told to writer Stephen Ng, Sam shares about his life and his “journey from natural life (sentence) to new life”. It is also a story of how his Christian faith gave him hope while he was in prison.
After the sentencing, his appeal to the High Court for a lighter sentence was turned down. Subsequent appeals also failed, and he was soon resigned to his fate.
In total, he spent 28 years in prison – two years in Pudu Jail, Kuala Lumpur, and 26 years in Kajang Prison, Selangor.
Life Behind Bars
In his first week in prison, he chose to starve.
“I felt sad and had no appetite. I could not eat the rice because of the smell of the plate, and the food was unpalatable. I ate only bread,” said Sam, in Cantonese.
“Gradually, I took my friends’ advice and ate the rice. I needed the energy to survive,” said Sam.
When he was behind bars, he could not sleep tight, either. “That’s because the bed bugs bite,” Sam related, with a laugh.
“Fellow prisoners would catch and burn these bugs alive (using lighters, as smoking was allowed then). But unknown to them, the bugs would rise again from the eggs that later emerged from their dried blood,” he said.
Born to rubber tapper parents, this Bentong-born boy was fifth in a family of 11 children.
He was always picked on and bullied at school.
When he was 13, his parents allowed him to move to Kuala Lumpur to stay with an aunt.
After Form Three, he dropped out of school and mixed with bad company.
A rolling stone, Sam held many odd jobs – as waiter, sous chef, tailor, nightclub bouncer and massage parlour captain.
There was also a time in his dark past when he was leader of a gang of 30 members who terrorised the Chow Kit area of KL. Sam was also a member of Hong Moon 3821, one of the biggest gangs in Malaysia.
He bought a .38 Smith & Wesson Special gun for 6,000 Baht (RM760) to protect his gang.
“A gun was symbolic of power. It meant that I dared to do things. If I got caught, so be it. I was only thinking about fast money,” said Sam.
Not long after he was sent to Kajang Prison, Sam started going to the weekly gatherings conducted by Malaysian Care, a non-profit organisation.
A year later – on Feb 15, 1992 – he became a Christian. His newfound faith gave him hope and meaning in life.
As the days went by, he took up Bible correspondence courses, and started counselling his fellow inmates, as well as led worship and Bible classes in prison.
It was with pride that, in 2012, he was given a blue uniform to wear, which signified that he was a privileged senior prisoner. During that time, there were six prisoners who wore the same colour.
“I could escort three prisoners at a time, and walk anywhere in the prison grounds except to the main entrance,” he said wryly.
His life was exemplary to the other inmates.
The prison wardens campaigned for his release and even sought the media’s help. Sam is grateful to Star Media Group managing director/chief executive officer Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai, who was among those who supported him and campaigned tirelessly for his release.
Helping Troubled Souls
Two years ago, a miracle happened – he was given a royal pardon.
On July 25, 2016, Sam walked out of Kajang Prison a free man.
After his release from prison, he enrolled for a theological course at Tung Ling Seminary in Subang Jaya, Selangor. Later, he got involved in church work.
Now, two years later, he is happy to live a simple, crime-free life.
One-and-a-half years ago, Sam began working at Sahabat Pudu. “We speak to drug addicts, beggars, foreigners, the elderly and home-less, and try to help them,” he said.
“A few months ago, some friends started Care Station, a non-governmental organisation in Kuala Lumpur, to help those who have lost their way (in life) to come back to society, including troubled teens,” said Sam, who is deputy chairman of this group.
Our interview had to be cut short when some of his friends dropped by Care Station, all raring to go and share their testimonies with some drug addicts at a rehabilitation centre in Kundang, Selangor.
Before we parted ways, I asked him what he thought might have happened if he had not gone to jail.
He sheepishly said: “Well, I might’ve been a ‘big boss’ … or been killed (during his perilous triad days of fights and gunfire).”